— President Trump, campaign rally in Sunrise, Fla., Nov. 26, 2019
“It’s called, excuse me, a travel ban, and it was recently voted on very favorably in a thing called the United States Supreme Court, was held totally constitutional, and we are now keeping terrorists, criminals and violent extremists the hell out of our country.”
— Trump, campaign rally in Bossier City, La., Nov. 14, 2019
“My administration implemented the travel ban to block migration from some of the world’s most dangerous and deadly places. And we’re keeping terrorists, criminals and violent extremists the hell out of our country. That’s what we’re doing.”
— Trump, campaign rally in Monroe, La., Nov. 6, 2019
“My administration implemented the travel ban on some of the world’s most dangerous countries. A lot of people were against it. They said, isn’t that terrible. Countries that have crime rates that are so high, you wouldn’t even believe it’s possible, and we have a travel ban now. We don’t take people from those countries, I’m sorry.”
— Trump, campaign rally in Lexington, Ky., Nov. 4, 2019
“He [Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood] opposed our travel ban, which is so important that we won in the United States Supreme Court to keep terrorists the hell out of our country.”
— Trump, campaign rally in Tupelo, Miss., Nov. 1, 2019
Starting in November, Trump began making a new claim at his campaign rallies — that the travel ban imposed early in his administration is keeping “terrorists” and “violent extremists” out of the country.
Trump has offered no evidence to back up his claim — and the White House did not respond to a request for comment — but his statements are now problematic in the wake of the deadly shooting rampage at a Navy flight school in Pensacola, Fla., by a Saudi military student, Ahmed Mohammed al-Shamrani.
Trump’s travel ban covers these countries: Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Venezuela and Yemen. (Chad was originally on the list but was removed in 2018 after the White House said the country improved security measures; Iraq and Sudan had been on earlier versions but not the one that passed muster with the Supreme Court.) So that means Saudi Arabia would not be covered.
The travel ban essentially halted the issuance of immigrant visas to the affected countries and restricted certain types of nonimmigrant visas, such as for tourism and business, though it varied from country to country. (The ban on business visas for Venezuela was limited to government officials and immediate family members, for instance.)
Shamrani held one of more than 5,500 temporary visas issued to Saudi military personnel by the State Department in 2019, according to department data. As of Friday, there were 852 Saudis in the United States for Pentagon-sponsored training related to security cooperation.
Here’s how nonimmigrant visas for Saudis in 2016, 2017 and 2018 compare with countries on the travel ban list, according to the State Department. Note that although Trump in his rallies suggests no one from the countries on the list can enter the country, the numbers are down, but not to zero. Saudi citizens have received more visas over the past two years than the travel-ban countries combined.
We’ve fact-checked at various times Trump administration claims that most terrorist attacks in the United States are committed by foreign-born people or that the administration blocked more than 3,000 “known or suspected terrorists” from entering the country. Those claims fell apart under scrutiny.
But now we have a specific example of a potential terrorist attack committed by a foreign person granted a visa by the United States during Trump’s presidency.
The FBI has said it presumed the shooting was terrorism. “We are, as we do in most active-shooter investigations, working with the presumption that this was an act of terrorism,” said Rachel Rojas, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Jacksonville division.
Trump, when he was still a private citizen, criticized the Obama administration for initially saying the Fort Hood shooting rampage by Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan that killed 13 was “workplace violence.” (It took President Barack Obama six years to concede it was a terrorist attack.) Hasan, however, was born in the United States; his parents were Palestinian immigrants.
CNN reported on Oct. 31 that the Trump administration is considering adding more countries to the travel ban list. But Trump has given no indication that he intends to add Saudi Arabia, and in fact, he has rushed to relay that “they are devastated in Saudi Arabia” and that “the king will be involved in taking care of families and loved ones.”
Just like Obama, Trump has not used the word “terrorism” to describe the attack.
But the attack shows the limits of Trump’s travel ban. We will be watching to see whether the president repeats his claims about it at his next rally.
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